Diabetes and Intimacy: What You Need to Know

We’ve said it before, and we’ll likely say it again: diabetes is an incredibly difficult condition to manage. It can be confusing, exhausting, and even painful. It never rests, and it never gives you a day off. Further, it affects so many different aspects of your life that it can be difficult to know where one symptom begins and the other ends.

And while a lot of people think that diabetes is easy enough to manage through a combination of lifestyle choices, medication, and insulin, there’s actually a lot more to it. Diabetes often butts its way into aspects of your life you’d never expect if you’re not living with it. For instance, you might not realize how pushy diabetes is. You might not know that it’s possible to find it interfering with sleep… and hobbies… and work. You might be surprised to learn that it sometimes even worms its way into your relationships.

While it’s not always the most comfortable thing to discuss, diabetes can have a significant impact on intimacy. And regardless of the level of discomfort involved, discussing this issue with both your doctor and your partner can be a crucial part of finding a solution.

However, maybe you’re not sure if there’s an issue. Or maybe you’ve heard this could be a problem, and are simply looking to prevent it. Perhaps you have an appointment with your doctor and you’re looking to learn as much as you can to ensure you are fully prepared to describe exactly what you’re encountering. Well, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading to learn more about diabetes and how it can affect intimacy.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/pikselstock
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/pikselstock

How is diabetes related to sexual dysfunction?

Diabetes is, unfortunately, a leading cause of sexual health issues. And for individuals who have consistently poor glucose control, the risk is even greater. While there are several ways in which sexual health problems can manifest themselves, and multiple different causes, one of the greatest threats is diabetic neuropathy. In fact, research suggests that up to 75% of men and 35% of women with diabetes report sexual problems attributed to neuropathy.

Further, having a chronic illness can cause a great deal of emotional and mental strain. The stress associated with diabetes can take its toll and exacerbate the physical issues associated with the condition. If you’re experiencing problems, it can put a significant amount of pressure on these situations. However, if you’re able to recognize the issues and address them with your doctor and partner, there are a lot of things you can do to improve the situation.

What problems do women encounter?

  • Decreased libido- Low libido is a problem that people with or without diabetes can encounter. However, inflammation associated with diabetes is believed to play a distinct role in decreasing an individual’s sex drive. Research suggests it’s possible that diabetes-related inflammation can actually enter the area of the brain that controls sexual desire. Further, low testosterone, a common side effect of diabetes, can affect both men and women, resulting in decreased libido.
  • Infection- If blood glucose levels aren’t properly managed, you’re at increased risk of urinary tract infections (UTI). UTIs can be uncomfortable, making sex less pleasurable.
  • Vaginal dryness- Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the walls of the vagina, posing an obstacle to lubrication. This can cause discomfort during intercourse.
  • Decreased sensation and difficulty with orgasm- Neuropathy can cause damage to blood vessels that carry blood to your nerves. This can make it difficult for women to become aroused or to have an orgasm.
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/biker3
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/biker3

What problems do men encounter?

  • Erectile dysfunction- Erectile dysfunction is believed to affect more than half of men who have had diabetes for more than 10 years. The biggest cause of this is nerve and artery damage in the genital region. Damage to the vascular system can impair blood flow to the genitals, making it difficult to get or maintain an erection.
  • Difficulty with orgasm- Neurovascular damage can decrease blood flow and sensation, making it difficult to have an orgasm.
  • Low testosterone- Studies have revealed that men who are overweight, have type 2 diabetes, or both are twice as likely to suffer from low testosterone as their peers without diabetes. Low testosterone can have detrimental effects on a man’s desire for sex.

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What can you do?

  • Talk to your doctor- While this can be an awkward conversation, talking to your doctor can prevent further damage. Further, your medical team can help you find a solution to the issues you’re struggling with, which may include medication.
  • Use a lubricant- Women with diabetes are at increased risk of developing yeast infections due to increased levels of sugar in the vagina. Avoid increasing that risk by using sugar-free products.
  • Seek outside help- Your primary care physician may not be an expert in this field. If your doctor can’t offer you sufficient advice, it may be time to talk to a counselor or even a sex specialist. If you’re struggling with sexual problems because of anxiety or depression, you might find it beneficial to talk to a professional.
  • Love your body- Body image issues are common. If you’re overweight or obese, you might feel a lot of pressure to lose weight– particularly if you have had conversations with your doctors about losing weight as part of a diabetes management program. If you’re struggling with body image issues, negative feelings about your body can be incredibly distracting during intercourse. However, learning to love your body can help quiet those thoughts so you can be in the moment with your partner.
  • Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/luckybusiness
    Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/luckybusiness
  • Establish intimacy- Intimacy is about more than just sex. If you’re not in the mood for sex, or are feeling a lot of pressure, try engaging in an activity that makes you feel close to your partner. Talk, cuddle while watching a movie, or exchange massages. If this ends with sex, that’s great, but if it doesn’t that’s okay too.
  • Sleep- Failing to get enough sleep can affect blood glucose levels, increasing risk of neuropathy. Make sure to catch your z’s to help effectively manage levels and avoid long-term damage.
  • Consider lifestyle changes- One of the best things you can do to mitigate risk of physical side effects of diabetes is to maintain control of your blood glucose levels. Many elements of diabetes management can also have benefits to your overall mood and health, making you feel more sexual and confident. Not feeling your best? Try adding exercise to your daily routine or making some healthy changes to your diet.
  • Try new things- The longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to experience some form of neuropathy. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t still experience pleasure from intercourse. It just means that what once worked might not continue to work. Don’t be afraid to explore new things.
  • Find ways to decrease stress- Diabetes can be stressful, and stress doesn’t exactly do wonders for your ability to get in the mood. Find a way to relax. If you and your partner are comfortable, it will make it easier to discuss any issues that might arise.
  • Make the bedroom a sexy place- One of the best things you can do to improve your bedroom’s sex appeal is to remove distractions. Making your bedroom a screen-free zone that promotes relaxation can improve both sleep and intimacy with your partner.
  • Limit alcohol- While alcohol can help lower inhibitions and increase libido, it can also reduce blood sugar. Further, if you’re a man, you may find that alcohol makes it more difficult to maintain an erection.
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